By Rick Santorum
It was the early evening of Monday, July 13, 2015. I was sitting in CNN's crowded Washington greenroom preparing to be interviewed by Wolf Blitzer and watching Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declare his candidacy for president.
There I sat, the runner-up for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, watching another accomplished rival declare his intention to run, yet everyone in the room wanted to talk to me about one thing: Donald J. Trump.
Trump had just declared his candidacy and, unbeknownst to us, would take on war hero John McCain, Fox News host Megyn Kelly, and anyone else who got in his way in the weeks to follow. The pundits and producers who filled the CNN greenroom that July day were convinced that the only relevant question was: How long will Trump last?
They were convinced that he would fizzle out. No way a Republican electorate would nominate a populist who focused on a wall with Mexico and trade deficits with China as the cornerstones of his campaign rollout. But when I was asked for my opinion, I told them don't be so sure.
Trump, to the shock of nearly everyone, would go on to win the Republican nomination for president, and he would do so by winning more votes than any Republican before him.
What the "smart people" in Washington and New York didn't understand, and for the most part still do not understand, is how much most Americans outside the technology corridors on the East and West Coasts are hurting.
Each month we read reports that the unemployment rate has decreased and we've continued to show job growth. Things look pretty good from a Manhattan high-rise or a Seattle cocktail party, but what types of jobs have been created in Scranton?
On Main Street, wages are stagnant, and more and more hardworking families are being forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Even worse, the labor participation rate is in the dumps because average working Americans have lost hope.
All the while, they hear the same people I met in the CNN greenroom tell them the economy is doing well under President Obama. As we're told, a rising tide lifts all boats, so we have nothing to worry about. Right? One problem: Millions of Americans have holes in their boats, and they resent sinking deeper and deeper as leaders of both parties let in more boats.
What Trump did was speak his mind. He wasn't afraid to speak up and speak out about the problems facing Middle America. Sure, he was a billionaire developer, but the millions of Americans who have been left behind in the Obama economy found a forceful voice on their side that the media couldn't help talking about. Maybe they didn't agree with everything he said or how he said it, but his tactics proved effective in getting the concerns of working Americans in the mainstream of public debate. He spoke for the American worker and was willing to take the heat from the elite know-it-alls and give it right back to them. It felt good.
No place was this better seen than in the April Pennsylvania primary. Trump did what virtually no other politician could do - in a multicandidate race, he won all 67 Pennsylvania counties. Think about that for one moment. Trump was able to unite urban Philadelphia, metropolitan suburban Philadelphia voters, the conservative T, and the blue-collar southwest in a hotly contested primary.
Trump was able to unite Pennsylvania voters, and millions more across the country, because he has given voice to the problems facing America. His slogan "Make America Great Again" strikes at the heart of this problem because places like Johnstown and Erie were once great, but the unfettered and unchecked globalization, particularly trade and immigration, advocated by both Republicans and Democrats crushed these and other communities. When they raise their voices, these towns are admonished to simply catch up with the rest of the world; it was their own fault they weren't prepared for the new economy.
Sure, some of Trump's rhetoric has made some people uncomfortable, and some of his prescriptions need to be tweaked, but I join him in saying, No more! If you think this sentiment is waning after the primary, you need only look at the vote in the United Kingdom. Hardworking families there and here are no longer going to take it on the chin and be told it is good for them.
Now many of the prognosticators who wrote Trump off a year ago are doing so again. There's no way he can win a general election. He's too caustic. He's too brash. He alienates too many people. As I told the folks in the CNN greenroom last July, don't be so sure.